Media Spotlight: Our Iceberg Is Melting

By John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

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Adapting to radical change has been one of the key hallmarks of the credit crisis. For many in the UK mortgage industry, as the market rode the decade-long boom in house prices, even accepting that the market was changing was hard to deal with.

And ultimately it’s coping and reacting to such a shift that separates companies and individuals into winners and losers of the downturn.

The aim then of John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber’s Our Iceberg Is Melting is to show you how to successfully deal with the problems that your company might face.

The book has a similar format to Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese (reviewed in the May 31 issue of Mortgage Strategy) – a simple fable about characters adapting to change. The heroes of Who Moved My Cheese were two mice called Sniff and Scurry who effortlessly adapted to change and it was down to the human characters to follow their lead.

In Our Iceberg Is Melting we have another simple fable except this time it’s a penguin colony coping with the fact the earth is getting hotter and their home is breaking up.

It starts off with one penguin called Fred who is a bit of a loner and always staring at the ice. He realises that the ice is melting and is faced with the challenge of convincing his colony about the problem and making sure it does something about it.

With the coming winter, Fred is worried that what he is witnessing could spell disaster for the colony.

He convinces the colony’s leadership that something needs to be done. The rest of the story is about how the colony works out what to do.

Underpinning this outwardly simple story is an eight-step process that the authors describe as being essential for successful change.

The background of both the book’s authors lies in helping businesses to cope with problems.

Kotter is a leadership and change guru at Harvard Business School and Rathgeber is a global manager at US medical technology firm BD. The eight steps break down like this – the first is to create a sense of urgency that there is actually a problem. You then get together a team, develop your vision and strategy for sorting out the problem, communicate what you are going to do to your group, or company, and empower others within your company to act.

Then, create some visible successes for people to feel good about, don’t let up and create a new culture within the firm. Simple, eh?

My initial thoughts were that with all the talk of melting ice, Our Iceberg Is Melting was less about managing problems and more about saving the planet. But while the principles behind the book could, no doubt, be used to help deal with any future eco-disasters, that’s not the book’s aim.

The penguins are powerless to avoid the impending disaster that they did not cause – the difficulty lies in convincing the colony that this is something it needs to take seriously and put into action. On that basis, it has many parallels with the UK mortgage market and the crisis imported from the US.

It’s not quite as entertaining as Happy Feet, the animated Hollywood film about penguins, but Our Iceberg Is Melting certainly has thought-provoking ideas about adapting to impending doom.

Book review by Robert Thickett